Each of us needs a purpose in life.
"So tell me something I don't know."
Okay, I will:
Research has proven that the nuanced will to live---something most of us take for granted, like breathing--is more vital to our health and well being than we have recognized. Better yet, it is within our power to control, with amazing, life-rewarding benefits.
The corollary to living is often listed as a cause of death for many older: Failure to thrive.
In a New York Times article, Finding Purpose for a Good Life, But Also a Healthy One, by Dhruv Khullar, says that diagnosis's bold preposition implies "humans, in their natural state, are meant to thrive."
Khullar cites the evidence that leads him to the conclusion: "Having a purpose isn't about finding the meaning of life, but but building meaning into your life."
"My patient, however," Khullar adds, "was not in his natural state. Cancer had claimed nearly every organ in his body. He'd lost a quarter of his body mass. I worried his ribs would crack under the weight of my stethoscope.
" 'You know,' he told me the evening I admitted him, 'A few years ago, I wouldn't have cared if I made it. Take me God, I would've said. What good am I doing here anyway? But now you have to save me. Sadie needs me.' "
|Sadie is his cat|
most at peace while caring for his mother when she had Parkinson's, but she died years ago. Since then, he had felt aimless, without a sense of purpose, until Sadie wandered into his life."
Studies have found that only one of four of us have a recognized sense of purpose that makes life more meaningful. About the rest, half of us see ourselves neutral or without purpose.
Research indicates that having a specific purpose, even if unrecognized as such, decreases one's risk of dementia and has a positive influence or controlling depression, neuroticism, socioeconomic status and chronic disease. Those with a greater sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's or minor cognitive problems.
Moreover, Khullar continued, "of 6,000 studied individuals followed over 14 years, it was found that those with a greater purpose were 15 percent less likely to die than those in their group who were less driven... and that having a purpose was protective across the life span--for people in their 20s as well as those in their 70s."
One remarkable study compared the effect of group therapy for patients with metastatic cancer.
One "support focused" group met weekly and discussed things like "the need for support" 'coping with medical tests," and "communicating with providers."
Another "meaning-centered" group focused instead on spiritual and existential questions like, "meaning before and after cancer," "What made us who we are today," and "Things we have done and want to do in the future." This group of patients experienced fewer physical symptoms, had a higher quality of life, felt less hopeless--and were more likely to want to keep living.
In a study of teen age volunteers--those who chose to help elementary students with homework, cooking, sports or arts and crafts verses a group that was put on a wait list without such a project--those actively involved students had lower levels of inflammation, better cholesterol profiles, a lower body mass index and grew in empathy and altruism That group also showed the largest reductions in cardiovascular risk.
In every scientifically designed study, the benefits of a purpose-filled life resulted in higher self-esteem with more social connections, better mobility and stamina.
Or, if this is all to complicated, check out Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. That'll do it for you.